And a good evening to you from the Mountain Fortress in Whitesburg, TN on the LAST DAY OF THE YEAR! Honestly, HOW is that possible? I'm not sure, but there's little to no time for contemplation, as we're just a scant 4 hours from VOL BALL, baby! Deets and Hardee - your Hokies are GOIN' DOWN. I don't care what 82% of America says (according to ESPN - what do they know about sports?), the Vols will reverse the curse of the Georgia Dome...as long as CP stays in Colorado, that is.
So the last 3 days have been simply FANTASTIC. When I got on that plane to come home on December 18th, I had no idea how AMAZING my time at home would be or how much fun I would have. Between all the good food, great gifts, and the trip to Opryland, I didn't think my time at home could get much better. Boy, was I wrong...
On the 29th we got up and rolled over to Dad's, where we headed out for a "mystery destination." 3 hours and a stop-over at Cracker Barrel later, we arrived in a spot I have NEVER been to in all my days in the Volunteer or Tarheel states - Hot Spring, NC.
Talk about a BLAST. This place is a TINY little town now BOOMING because of the rock slide on I-40. There are only about 3 places to eat in town, and they are RAMMED now because of the influx of traffic. Thank goodness we booked in advance!
So we showed up and checked in at the Iron Horse Station, an old pullman hotel now converted into a great little hotel. Our room was SO CUTE, and the entire place was like something out of a movie. We took a walk along the French Broad River for about 90 minutes before rolling down to the Iron Horse Station Restaurant (yep, the owner is like Boss Tweed - he pretty much runs the ENTIRE town).
So a little back story - Hot Springs got its name from...wait for it...wait for it...some hot springs in the town (I know, I know - I can sure write a cliffhanger). These hot springs were the reason for our visit, and we'd booked a hot tub for 9 PM. Knowing that the pace of life moves a little slower in Hot Springs and wanting to ensure that we had ample time to eat before dinner, we grabbed a table at 6:50 PM, just in time for the start of "Open Mike night."
And while the music was very good, the service wasn't. At 7:28 PM, we still hadn't seen hide nor hair of our waitress, and I was starting to get the shakes because I hadn't had a drink in almost 4 hours. Luckily, the host came over and took our order, and just a scant 40 minutes later we finally had drinks (Highland Mocha Stout - Wags, I knew you'd be proud) and some of the BEST Southern fried chicken I've had in a long time). All in all, a successful run.
We then went to the hot springs for the marquee event of the evening - the hour in the hot tub. This was GREAT! Jenny and I had a private tub (please keep the jokes to a minimum), which was basically a lean-to shed with a tin roof. It was only 20 degrees outside, so I actually wore a beanie for the first 10-15 minutes, but the water was GREAT and practically every star in the night sky was visible through the openings in the roof. It was AWESOME! Well, except the part where you have to get out and FREEZE YOUR ASS OFF.
We caught the tail end of the bowl game that night (no TV in the room, but a 60 inch one was in the bar) before PASSING OUT. We are talking one of the BEST nights of sleep I've had in a long time.
The next morning we had a great breakfast at a local dive before heading back through exotic Newport, TN (Miller - think of this as a "big Tazewell"). We then stopped back at home for 90 minutes or so before rolling back to Knoxville to spend the night with the Rice clan. It was during this time, that I was forced to bid farewell to a true solider at arms. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, after 23 WONDERFUL years of service, the Bronco has officially given up the ghost. After carrying dad and I all the way to the International Peace Gardens, carrying me, Adam, and Pattie to countless ball games, and serving as the official vehicle of Russellville athletics for 2 decades, it has FINALLY set sail into the West. Dad, don't worry - I'll pour a little Fat Tire out for it tonight to honor its memory. Good times, and hey - at least the memory of Ranger Rowdy lives on.
Next up - the gourmet feast at casa de Rice. So we arrive to be greeted with a growler of Cherokee Red, some of the finest brew in the Volunteer State. But that was just the teaser, as dinner was OFF THE CHAIN! Picture asparagus wrapped in prosciutto ham, the SIGNATURE hash brown casserole, broccoli salad, and then...TWO KINDS OF RIBS (country and baby back). You talk about eating like KINGS - Henry VIII never ate like this. FULL MARKS, GUYS!!!! THANKS SO MUCH! And just wait until you see the photo of muffin puffin and I rockin' our new Vol gear!
We spent the evening and this morning hanging out with them, having a GREAT time catching up and debating the merits of firing Mike Leach. Can't wait to see you guys again in 2010! Sam will be mobile by then!
Okay, gotta run and eat the bountiful New Year's "snack" that mom and Steve have prepared for us. But just so we're clear - "snack" means about 20 pounds of sausage balls, cantelope, country ham biscuits, sausages, and all the cake and cookies you could ever want. Mom said, "This will be a good appetizer before dinner tonight." Honestly, this is only an appetizer IF YOU ARE KING KONG. All the same, who's NOT complaining? THIS GUY...
That's all the news that's fit to print. Look for the second post later today - the Year (and Decade) in Review!
Sam and Jenny